Et tu, target?

2I was talking to a friend the other day about the scam series of posts I am doing on the blog. And she mentioned how the poor tech illiterate folks get duped. And my reaction was NO. Not really. Yes it is very easy to scam someone who is not very tech savvy that especially includes the rural folk, the senior citizens etc. But here is a list that’ll help you assess whether you can be scammed:

  • Are you Human?

End of list. If you are a human being with aspirations, fears, insecurities, dreams, or just a human body then you qualify. While most of the scams rely on psychological tricks some simply work because you are tired, sleepy, or you have to pee and things like that. And mind you scammers target people of all walks of life, age, gender, background and income levels. There are retired policemen who have been victims of scam. Somebody who has spent a lifetime getting into a criminal’s minds and catching them. They have the information of the most common conman tricks. This is somebody who is professionally trained to questions each and everything around them, look for details, investigate and analyse things! Then what chance does a layman have?

  • Some of the simpler ones like a pickpocket relies on you being temporarily distracted for a few seconds. The modus operandi is usually there is one person who distracts you with a question like what time it is or do you know a particular address or just bump into you on a busy road and while you are processing this information your wallet has quickly reached his accomplices hand who in turn passes it on to a third person.
  • Some others like a telephone call saying your card has been blocked and needs to be reactivated using your PIN is preying on your fear & anxiety of you not being able to access your own money.
  • Fake modeling agencies and casting agencies makes use of your aspirations of becoming a famous film star , pop star or a super model.
  • Scams like ‘signed cancelled cheques’ use your ignorance of banking procedures.
  • Love scams target your need for a companion. Lonely/single people are the target.
  • Fake police and post scams rely on your social compliance and conformance to people in uniforms or Government agencies.
  • Fake crying baby sounds and the fake accident victim scams exploit your inherent human compassion and good Samaritan nature.
  • Scams targeting old people rely on their slower mental reflexes and their lack of knowledge updation.
  • Most scams like Nigerian scams exploit simple human greed.

Now that we know anybody can be scammed what do we do about it

  • Rule of thumb that applies to EVERYBODY(Unless you are Eklavya!) – If it is too good to be true, it probably is!!!
  • Beware of strangers! Stranger Danger isn’t a myth. Don’t let strangers into your house. Don’t give out information to strangers on phone or in person. Don’t trust strangers easily.
  • Be Aware of your surroundings and try and keep yourself updated with the happenings in the World. Difficult! I know! I myself haven’t read a newspaper for  ages now.
  • Question things! Try and keep your calm and think logically even in difficult situations!
  • And after all we are only human. We cannot be hyper alert all the time. We falter and when you do seek help! From your friends and the concerned authorities. Report the scams and make others around you aware too.
  • And lastly keep reading my blog! Check out the other posts in the same series. I won’t bore you. Promise!!

#JaagoDearJaago!

 

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Prince charming calls

Nigerian-PrinceWe have all waited for our Prince charming some or the other time in our life. I didn’t have to wait for it long. No sooner had I opened an email account, I got an email from a Nigerian Prince. Whats more he was offering me money. Large sums of it. In dollars no less. And he was so polite! He was slightly bad at English and grammar but hey you can’t have it all! However, Prince is a bit much for me. I’d prefer a commoner to be more honest. My insecurities told me so. So I just let it go.

A few days later, Coca Cola told me I won some prize for a lottery that I never purchased. This time in GBP. The next time it was Hero Honda and oh my God the emails just kept pouring in. They all told me how they found me in some directory and how they found me trust worthy and how my credit score just shines! I was wondering why I don’t I meet these people in real life. I should have shown some of these emails to my friends! Once I bought a phone I got text messages with similar prize money. Then when I went online for searching something and even these websites started offering me money. Lucky me!

But am sure I ain’t the only lucky person. Anybody who hasn’t been living under a rock has been this lucky sometime or the other. This is what is called a Nigerian scam or a 419 scam based on the International code for Nigeria. Most of these emails originate from Nigeria. About 60% of them, hence the name. This is THE MOST common scams around. Apart from being the most common, the variations of this scam are the oldest as well.

The older form of this scam called ‘Spanish prisoner scam’ is from the 18th century. Individuals are contacted and offered a part of somebody’s fortune in exchange for a bribe money you pay to get the person out of the prison. The newer one offers you a prize money or it says someone wants to transfer a huge sum of money and needs an ally. In exchange you get to keep a percentage of it. They always have a story of why they need your assistance. Sometimes they are also you a job. This is used to get money from you and also for identity theft. Just Google for Nigerian scam and you’ll find a wealth of information.

You might have thought who’d fall for such a scam but as per one study, in 2013, an estimated $12.7 billion was lost to these scams worldwide. That means somebody is still falling for this trick even almost a century later. The reason is pretty simple. Lure of easy money and also the fact that this is a big industry in some poorer countries and done on a large scale as a full time job with proper training. They keep updating themselves and come up with newer stories and tricks every once in a while.

Now to the important part what to do when you are at the receiving end of such an email/text/call/fax/ad.

Check any email that you get for sender. Most of these originate from the web based emails. and have bad English, grammar or badly made logos. All reputed companies have their own domain and also use the email ids of their own domain. The scammers have off late gotten sophisticated and use legit sounding names and better logos but with a slight effort you can find out the real sender.

In case of doubt, you can Google search and check the senders IP. Check if it is in the spam database.

Don’t respond! Just delete it and mark it as spam. Again don’t click on the mark spam and unsubscribe. You do not even to confirm that such an email id exists and being used.

Do NOT part with any personal details whatsoever. Least of all your bank account details.

If at all, you have given any money or details and are being pursued for more money, inform the police and get out of the situation. The ‘sunk cost fallacy’ makes you act otherwise, counter to your own best interests and you keep giving more money.  Do yourself a favor and stop!

And lastly the usual culprit, if something is too good to be true, remember, it most certainly is! Do not trust random emails/random stroke of luck. Use your judgement. Or rather don’t let your judgement get clouded!

This is part of my very own ‘Jaago Grahak Jaago’ series. The previous post in the series is ”Striking gold“. More coming later. Hope you guys like them. Do leave your thoughts in the comments section below. And have a great day!

Striking Gold

Gold-coinLife has its ups and downs but once in a while you get an offer that you just cannot refuse. You strike Gold! In my case quite literally. I was having lunch with my folks on a peaceful Sunday afternoon and I got a call on my mobile. The speaker said, he is from a remote part of Rajasthan and while digging some ruins for archaeological purposes they found gold. A good number of kilos. I don’t remember the exact number now. This was about a 5-6 years ago. But it was a good number. And now he had to give it to the government which is as per the law. So he proposed a solution, he could sell me the gold at almost half the market rates. I transfer the money and he ships the gold to my house.

Great deal, right? Except I am not a gold enthusiast and more importantly I could tell this was a scam, so I refused. The guy asked me to reconsider. He persisted and also lamented for I was letting go of such a fantastic opportunity.

Then I got talking to my Dad and it indeed was a scam! A thumb-rule that you can apply here, If something sounds too good to be true then it most probably is!! This is just one instance. There are many variations of this call. I plan to write a serious of these posts with the details of scams I have come across or have friends who have come across these instances.

Why is it that people fall for these scams? Well that one is easy. Easy money!! Easy money and the lure of a windfall. This one comes with an additional incentive of being able to screw the Government; Sone pe Suhaga(pun intended!). Irresistible package.

Now how to deal with these people:

Do NOT engage with them. I thought I am the smart one and just wanted to see how the caller responds so I did ask him a few questions on how he got my number, how is it that no one else knows about him finding the gold and the likes. He had an answer for all of them. He had anticipated these questions and had the answers handy. In hindsight, I should have just cut the call. Do not get into a conversation with these people. Just hang up.

Do NOT share any personal information whatsoever. And that includes even your name. It is not a big deal to find a bunch of phone numbers and the corresponding names. Especially not in our country with such lax regard for data privacy both by the Government and the individuals. So even if the caller is able to identify you and rattle off a few details of yours from some list do not fall for it.

Report scam. Actually I haven’t tried this one yet. If you get in touch with the police they should be able to direct you to the cyber crime cell. Registering for DND(Do Not Disturb)  to 1909 is something I have tried and works to a certain extent. You can also call 1909 which is toll free number and is a service offered by TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India). If you are a frequent recipient of scam/spam calls and messages, there is also an android app “India against spam” which is an award winning app. Not sure if the other OSes have this app. Let me know in the comments if any of you are aware. This helps report the call/message with a single tap.

Last and the most important of all: Be skeptical, be aware of things happening around you and question people before you buy into anything. And remember there is no such thing as a easy money. Anything that you get easily gets squandered easily too. This cliched gyaan makes sense. Think about it!

Stay Safe

Yesterday was one of the rare weekdays when I was home and the bell rang in the afternoon at around 2 pm. I was wondering who would have come at this hour and opened the door gingerly. There was a man standing who asked “Saab nahi hai?” A line that would work in almost all cases. All the houses have atleast one saab, no? He then said “The Saab” has asked him to do some repair work in the bathroom. For a second I was relieved that finally we managed to find a repairman for the pending work since weeks. But wait I hadn’t seen this repairman in any repairs that we had gotten done at our place and our owner clearly stated many times earlier our house problems while we are staying are our own and they can’t be of much help so he wont be sending any men for repair. Then it striked he was a conman!

On me saying I don’t know of any such repair to be done at our place, he tried many things like

  • I have come all the way from Alandi. Insert any far off place. It will work
  • Isn’t it A sir’s house. How difficult is it to get the owner’s name against the flat number from the society board
  • He then pretended to call the saab. Asked me if the number was starting with 987… Again common starting number for Pune numbers.
  • Fortunately I had the sense to not leave the door open and rush to get my cell and call.
  • He then asked me if the owner is from Rajasthan. I can guess that too from the surname.
  • And he finally left after that when I closed the door shut properly.
  • A call to our owner confirmed my suspicion

I thought he was a conman because this reminded me of a similar incident with my Mom when we were kids. My mom didn’t fall for this because my Dad has always been communicative. He would have informed my Mom for sure if she was to expect to any repairman.

Just the same day when I read the news in the evening I read of three people losing gold in Pune to gold-polishing conmen. The oldest trick in the book for stealing gold and yet people fall for it(just like the Nigerian scam).  Roof repair scams are pretty common too.

We need to be more careful who we let into our houses even if it is for repair. I know this sounds like a Savdhaan India/Crime Patrol tagline but I am going to saying it anyway

Stay Alert! Stay Safe!